Macadamia Nuts and Mai Tais: Arriving in Luxury on Hawaiian Airlines

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 10, 2019

Is Hawaii on your bucket list? You're not alone. Nearly 10 million visitors descended upon our nation's 50th state last year. And for queer travelers, Hawaii ranks as a top domestic honeymoon destination.

But flying over that long stretch of the Pacific Ocean takes a minimum of five hours from the west coast, so why not do it in style? Hawaiian Airlines offers plenty of nonstop flights from the mainland, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those traveling from the east coast well also appreciate the direct routes from New York City and Boston.

Hawaiian Airlines has recently upgraded its fleet of Airbus 330s with a first-class cabin that includes 18 lie-flat seats. They're doubled up, so if you're sitting in a window seat, you may need to rely on yoga to scale over your neighbor. Other quirky features include a lack of built-in entertainment system. Expect, instead, for the flight attendant to wire you into a large, portable tablet and noise-canceling headphones. Don't plan on WiFi, though. The fleet has yet to integrate what has become standard on most flights. Download content on your personal devices before departure, or do what I did, and pack a good vacation read. (I recommend this season's runaway queer fiction best-seller, "Red, White & Royal Blue" by Casey McQuiston.)

Vacation vibes overtake a Hawaiian Airlines flight when the majority of travelers are headed toward their dream destination. My experience was no different, with a flight crew sporting genuine smiles and passengers eager in anticipation. Each first-class seat offers a quilted seat cover for extra comfort, plush pillow, and fuschia pink blanket. The airline underwent a brand refresh several years ago, and its signature "Pualani" (Flower of the Sky) expresses the Aloha spirit brighter than ever.

A Taste of the Islands

While I'll never say no to a glass of champagne aboard a departing flight, Hawaiian Airlines captures the flavors of the islands with three signature cocktails (complimentary in First/Business Class) crafted exclusively for the airline. These include a Mai Tai (Cruzan rum, Orgeat, coconut, pineapple and citrus), Tropical Landing (Larios gin, violet, guava, coconut and citrus), and a riff on the Moloka'i Mule (Cruzan rum, ginger, passionfruit and lime). They go down easy, but beware: at 40-proof these cocktails pack a punch. Macadamia nuts are served alongside, representing Hawaii's longstanding tradition of harvesting the delicious snack.

Those in First Class can also experience the culinary creations of the airlines' executive chef Lee Anne Wong, as well as a revolving roster of featured chefs. Mauna Loa macadamia nuts accompany beverage service, a regional touch that celebrates the harvest's long history on the islands, which dates back to 1921. Mauna Loa dates back more than 40 years, converting sugar cane plantations into macadamia plantations. The primary processing plant, located in Hilo, Hawaii, welcomes visitors, but you can find the range of products all over the islands.

Wong's recent menu features an array of Asian-inspired dishes such as vegetables with miso-mustard vinaigrette, Indonesian-style beef Rendang and mango panna cotta. Wong, who appeared on the first season of "Top Chef," has worked as a supervising culinary producer on subsequent seasons, as well as "Top Chef Masters." To taste more of her cuisine, visit Koko Head Café, a popular brunch spot in Honolulu, where you can sample decadent treats like Cornflake French toast or hearty congee, loaded with bacon, Portuguese sausage, and a soft-poached egg.

My return flight featured chef Wade Ueoka (through November 2019). His James Beard-nominated MW Restaurant is one of the island's most coveted reservations. Consider a tasting menu ($28 - $150) to experience the chef's vast offerings. My flight showcased Ueoka's finesse with dishes like chicken kabocha cake with Togarashi mayonnaise, braised miso beef, and a guest appearance by Hawaiian Pie Company for dessert.

New and Noteworthy

Hawaiian Airlines continues to advance its capacity through innovative technology, new routes and a commitment to customer service.

More robust service will be offered between Honolulu and Tokyo beginning in summer 2020. While that's exciting news for Japanese travelers, it also offers U.S. visitors the chance to plan a dream itinerary that takes them from Hawaii to Japan.

"As the U.S. airline offering the most flights to the most markets between Japan and Hawai'i, we look forward to building on the popularity of our authentic Hawaiian hospitality by adding another convenient option for guests traveling between Haneda and Honolulu," said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.

Other new routes include Maui to Las Vegas with a new fleet of narrow-body Airbus A321 neo aircrafts, beginning December 15, 2019. Other new routes featuring this aircraft include Honolulu to Seattle and seasonal winter service between Maui and Los Angeles (LAX).

While the new routes are generating buzz among passengers, Hawaiian Airlines is also working behind the scenes to upgrade technology and launch new operational strategies to keep flights running smooth. The airline has begun implementing Amadeus Departure Control Flight Management, which according to the airline, "allows Hawaiian to quickly and precisely define each aircraft's optimal load distribution using enhanced automated data feeds, including passenger numbers, cargo volume and fuel weight planned for each flight."

Rainbow Proud
Hawaiian Airlines has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community through its involvement with Honolulu Pride and the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival. My recent flight proved that that "Ha'aheo" (which means "Pride" in Hawaiian) is part of the airline's DNA.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Senior Editor of Travel, Lifestyle, Health & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.

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